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by Eric Kohn
October 8, 2013 12:00 PM
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Review: Alicia Keys-Scored 'The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete' Is Earnest, Sweet and Aimless

"The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete."
Director George Tillman Jr.'s filmography includes star-studded studio projects like "Men of Honor" and "Notorious," but you wouldn't guess it from the ultra-sincere "The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete," an earnest tale of two lower class kids spending the summer on their own in the Brooklyn projects. The movie hails from a tradition of sentimental, character-driven indies largely based around the strengths of a handful of performances not typically represented in current cinema. To that end, it succeeds, and owes much to the investment of its young leads. But while it contains many earnest ingredients, "Mister and Pete" never obtains the tidy balance of its rhyming title.

It doesn't take long to make it clear that the adolescent Mister (spectacular newcomer Skylan Brooks) lives a dreary existence. Booted from school for not doing his work and showing attitude when admonished for it, Mister heads to his grimy, crime-infested apartment complex, where his junkie mother (Jennifer Hudson in an aggressive turn) wastes her days away doing drugs and turning tricks for food. The only semblance of sincere companionship in Mister's life comes from the oddly cheery Pete (Ethan Dizon), a neighborhood kid junior to Mister by several years but similarly adrift due to his single mother's street antics. Early on, the police bust into Mister's apartment to arrest his mother; afraid he'll get shipped off to the dreaded youth detention center, Mister hides along with Peter and the two of them wind up taking over the place. When Mister's mother fails to return, the boys find themselves in the curious position of scraping together resources to get by.

The ensuing adventure takes place over the course of a chaotic summer in which Mister masterminds attempts to keep their fridge stocked while imagining a better life. Imitating the gangster activity around the neighborhood, Mister tries his hand at thievery and eventually runs out of options. The imminently likable Brooks is a figure of tremendous sympathy, particularly once his pipe dream takes shape: A closet movie buff, Mister aspires to land a role in a Beverly Hills-set television, and even preps a monologue from "Fargo" when imagining his audition.

For the most part, however, the closest that Mister gets to an encouraging audience is the oblivious Pete and benevolent Alice (Jordin Sparks), who used to live in Mister's building before moving up in the world. Neither of them, however, can free Mister from the immediate frustrations of his limited surroundings, a drama made palatable by Alicia Keys' energetic score but otherwise stymied when the premise fails to go anywhere.

Instead, "Mister and Pete" unfolds as a series of vignettes, some of which are mildly touching but others that dangle helplessly in the middle of an aimless story. The main focal point in each scene is the investment that Brooks and Dizon bring to their characters, leading to a formidable chemistry that suggests an urbanized "Peanuts." Unfortunately, Michael Starrbury's screenplay lacks a cohesive means of channeling their conundrum into an involving dramatic arc, so that by the time the movie arrives at the apex of its dramatic incidents, they've been anticipated for so long that the finale comes across as an afterthought. While not without its touching moments, "Mister and Pete" is inevitably defeated by its own good intentions.

Criticwire grade: C+

HOW WILL IT PLAY? Codeblack Entertainment releases the film in a handful of theaters this weekend. Despite the handful of starry names associated with its production, "Mister and Pete" faces a tough odds, as word of mouth is likely to be divided, although its niche appeal to black audiences could help it gain some momentum at this early stage of the fall movie season.

A version of this review ran during the Sundance Film Festival. A newer cut of the film, 10 minutes shorter than the Sundance version, will be released in theaters this weekend.

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  • vernon | October 9, 2013 10:45 PMReply

    Finally somebody goes beyond cuteness to find the real meat. not to much... stay strong Eric.

  • tom | October 9, 2013 11:29 AMReply

    Way to go Eric.

  • Bob | October 10, 2013 11:44 AM

    Thoughtful post, Tom! I do think critics need moral support every once in a while. They're really put to the test by tearing down other people's work... It's as thankless as being a meter maid, and likely rewarding.

  • sumer | October 9, 2013 11:28 AMReply

    I finally got to see this film. I believe that the director exploited these child actors to present a picture way of of reality. It is an insult to the audience. the reviewer is with minor typos right on the mark. The comments below do not make sense to me. I grew up in an environment that this film is supposedly attempting to portrait.

  • Tyler | October 9, 2013 8:05 AMReply

    Yeah, the film review is an exact resubmission of his Sundance review (which sucks but happens). Most of his comments, while vague, are still applicable to the film. I just don't know how anyone with a brain or soul could think the movie wasn't a massive success and emotional powerhouse.

  • PCG | October 8, 2013 2:36 PMReply

    wow... pretty inexcusable resubmission from January...

  • MRO | October 8, 2013 10:46 PM

    Haven't seen either version of the film, but the reviews are the same. Good catch, assuming the film was actually changed/significantly edited. I'm sure a lot of movies are slightly tweaked between festivals premieres and what the distributor releases. Curious to know how much was actually changed. If the changes are legitimate/significant, his editor should have his head. He was probably getting paid to dial it in, if so. I've heard of Cohn doing that before.

  • Mark Anthony | October 8, 2013 2:07 PMReply

    This is a re-submission of the critic's Sundance review, which is an entirely cut/film from the final cut. Way to go, Indiewire! Having seen both versions of the film, I was surprised by the inaccuracy of this review--turns out, a lazy and unscrupulous reviewer took the easy path and resubmitted an outdated review on a film that no longer exists.

  • rolland | October 9, 2013 1:23 PM

    Different version same fundamental shortcommings

  • Tim R | October 8, 2013 4:36 PM

    That's awesome! He didn't even bother to correct old mistakes from his initial review of the old cut? So much for journalistic integrity!!! Eric/Indiewire, shame on you!!

  • Katherine | October 8, 2013 2:14 PM

    You're so right! Eric was so lazy that he didn't even correct his mistakes (he got the names of the characters mixed up in his original review as well (GLORIA was Jen Hudson). What a lazy ass!

  • DF | October 8, 2013 1:49 PMReply

    This review is utterly and mind-blowingly off. Having been at one of the press screenings, I don't think I've seen an audience so moved by a film or such authentic and powerful performances by a entire cast (particularly young Skylan and Jennifer Hudson). The review deserves a C+ rating, not the film.

  • Jill | October 10, 2013 11:45 AM

    I think Theresa has had a couple... Hilar!

  • Theresa | October 9, 2013 1:27 PM

    As it turns out Thresa you either have not seen the movie or youwere asllepp during most of it. The Sundace review presnts the SAME shortcommings as the new one. C+ is geneous